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Gary Brenner

The Prudent Predator argument

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So that I can understand your logic better, is it your position that is a being is metaphysically capable of acting in a particular way, then it is in their nature to act that way?

Not necessarily. I am metaphysically capable of sleeping with another man. However, I don't because I'm not inclined that way. (Not that there's anything wrong with it!) So is it in my nature to sleep with men? No.

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This is asking for a pragmatic derivation to what Objectivism views as a principled stand? It reduces virtue to a cost-benefit analysis, which is incorrect, epistemologically and ethically speaking. Virtue is not a cost-benefit analysis, nor does Objectivism recognize a cost-benefit analysis as the determining factor in ethics.

Early in "The Objectivist Ethics" Ayn Rand states, "An organism's life is its standard of value: that which furthers its life is the good, that which threatens it is the evil." How is judging what furthers one’s life to be good not a cost-benefit analysis?

Why do you want a proof that is based upon wrong-headed epitemology and meta-ethics?

Everyone is speaking to you in terms of Objectivist meta-ethics, and you are in return speaking in pragmatist terms. Neither the twain shall meet, which is everyone might feel like they are wasting a lot of breath.

Ayn Rand wrote that "looters may achieve their goals for the range of a moment, at the price of destruction: the destruction of their victims and their own." Is that not a pragmatic argument? Why even mention the destruction of the looter if the Objectivist ethics is only about principle and virtue without regard for benefits?

Virtue to you seems to be "what works", and vice is what "doesn't work". And in order to prove vice, you have to prove that it "doesn't work" for everyone, if I read your bold above correctly.

Then what precisely is the argument for respecting the rights of others? What is the case for pursuing that particular virtue rather than the virtue of selfishness without regard for others?

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Not necessarily. I am metaphysically capable of sleeping with another man. However, I don't because I'm not inclined that way. (Not that there's anything wrong with it!) So is it in my nature to sleep with men? No.
That being the case, then your arguments that men can violate the rights of others is irrelevant to the question of whether a man who acts contrary to reason is still acting according to his nature.

Can you explain why you do not understand argument that I set forth? Your objections have not been on point; the argument is extremely straighforward, although not if you don't pay attention to what the actual steps are, backsliding can occur. You seem to be engaging in petitio pricipii -- you want to conclude that predation is moral for man, and therefore all of your objections amount to saying "predation is moral for men". I have not seen the direct proof that this is so (and I'm not actually interested in such an argument), and you have yet to point to an actual flaw in the Objectivist argument. Wazzup with that?

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Why even mention the destruction of the looter if the Objectivist ethics is only about principle and virtue without regard for benefits?
Because benefit is what it's all about. So, in a sense virtue is "what works"; i.e. what works across the span of a life, not what works in the range of the moment, only to cause a problem later on.

My advice on this would be to first think of virtue in a non-social sense. It's quite a hypothetical leap, but you don't have to think of Robinson Crusoe. Instead, for starters, ignore social contexts and focus on things like: should one learn how to be rational, should one get addicted to drugs, etc. Better to sort out those, and see how selfishness works, and how man has choices, but not any choice he wishes.

Then, only once you agree that the Objectivist ethics works in those types of contexts, move on to the social context. Ask oneself: can man benefit from the society of other men? how can man go about benefiting most from such society? etc.

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Because benefit is what it's all about. So, in a sense virtue is "what works"; i.e. what works across the span of a life, not what works in the range of the moment, only to cause a problem later on.

My advice on this would be to first think of virtue in a non-social sense. It's quite a hypothetical leap, but you don't have to think of Robinson Crusoe. Instead, for starters, ignore social contexts and focus on things like: should one learn how to be rational, should one get addicted to drugs, etc. Better to sort out those, and see how selfishness works, and how man has choices, but not any choice he wishes.

Gary, I'll answer your first question to me based upon what SN said, which is quite good. What SN is describing is considering man's life (the organism in this case) as a standard of value. Rand is careful to differentiate standard from purpose. That is, Objectivist ethics uses the organism as a class, as the yardstick (or standard) by which to determine what virtue is.

The quote you gave me from Rand is a little ambiguous, but I am certain that she is much more clear in other writing and she does address this numerous times. The phrase "man qua man" is also a key word. That is, evaluating man as a member of the class of animals man. Another signal is the standard/purpose distinction. Look for these and you will see Rand clarifying what she means.

Given that virtue will be defined that way, does that mean that virtues somehow aren't related to me and the events in my real world? No. What it means is that virtues are generalities that apply to all men, but for which there is basis in reality. Rands statement about destruction of the looter, means that any particular looter is put on a path to eventual destruction, when he chooses to practice the vice. This can be shown in reality; however, the fact that that path may take days, weeks or years to travel or that it is longer for some looters than others does not in any way change the fact that the choice to practice the vice puts him on that path.

The corollary to that is that the choice to practice the virtue puts him on a different path, one to the ultimate purpose of his life, his own deeply lasting happiness (or as Tara Smith puts it in the book Viable Values, which details Objectivist meta-ethics, flourishing). One may be able to acheive short range pieces of value by a near term cost benefit analysis; however, only at the sacrifice of the long range goal. This is the equivalent of setting out to climb a mountain and never getting there because you keep walking up and down the path to eat blueberries. The choice to compromise virtue must result in something less than ultimate happiness. The choice to consistently practice vice, will put you on a path that will lead to your destruction. So in effect, the choice to be virtuous is the choice to flourish, to reach a long term state via a path that is consciously chosen, no matter what distracting choices would take you away from that goal.

Pragmatism is not this at all, because it literally says, whatever works is the good. It doesn't even recognize a possibility of an end state like happiness and so, you should just eat whatever blueberries you can get your hands on, regardless.

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The victim [of looting] certainly is destroyed.
That part of Rand’s statement was never in dispute. The issue being debated is expressed in the title of this thread.
Ah, then you agree that looting does destroy it's victim. Good, I was afraid you were one of those unreasonable ones :):lol:

Next question: do you agree that playing russian roulette is the destruction of the player? Or that randomly pulling wires from a bomb is the destruction of the defuser?

The point is that a government looter could lay a heavy tax on a population without killing the golden goose, so to speak. The starvation of millions in China’s "Great Leap Forward" did not put a dent in Chairman Mao’s lifestyle.
Well, okay. But does this point matter? I could/would argue that starving millions did impair what Mao would otherwise have obtained in life, but more importantly, an isolated example doesn't make your case. "The destruction of the looter" doesn't mean that every bank robber will be apprehended or every dictator hung out to dry. Pointing out evil men who weren't killed is as relevant to your debate as pointing out productive men who were killed.

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I cannot expect to know the cause of someone's self-esteem unless he chooses to reveal it to me. And even then, my knowledge would have to rely entirely on the speaker’s willingness to be truthful. If a fat man tells me the cause of his self-esteem is his appearance, he may or may not be lying.

I'm not talking about knowing the cause of a particular man's self-esteem. I am talking about knowing the cause of self-esteem, as such. You do know that emotions have identity; that A is A when it comes to emotions... that they are not causeless and you can definitively create a list of things that can and cannot cause a given emotion, right?

So I ask: is it possible to know what can and cannot give rise to a given emotion or are emotions unknowable and causeless?

There could be a variety of motives. Perhaps he has a deep-seated need to prove himself better than his father. Maybe he wants to impress his girlfriend. Maybe he’s just sick of living in his run-down cold-water flat.

But that was not the question asked of you. What was asked was: given your choice to live, and your choice to use reason and never lapse in said use, can you present the logical chain of decisions and values that causes one to seek wealth, status, and power? Not just what set of ideas, contradictory or not, can cause a person to want these things, but: what NON-contradictory set of ideas can cause a person to want these things.

You have now committed to non-contradiction, so we are going to hold you to that.

You can't take it as a given that one should seek these things. You must prove it while remaining logically consistent with your earlier choice to live and always use reason. Then you must also show that you can choose looting while still maintaining logical consistency with all previous choices and values.

It is in fact impossible to do so, and also choose looting.

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Hi Gary Brener,

Think of two kids who take two different approaches to school. One decides to master all the ruies and principles of math and science and he constantly gets A's in his tests. Another decides to learn how to cheat by copying other kids' answers and also usually gets A's. Do you believe that we have no way of telling which of the two will have real self esteem? Do you believe that both will feel the same kind of confident attitude to (school) life (an attitude that is a necessary ingredient of happiness, no?)? in short, do you think that we can't tell which of the two kids would be truly happy because we haven't invented a machine that measures happiness or self esteem? If that is your position, then...I personally wouldn't know where to start with you.

The fact is, a looter is not happy precisely because happiness comes from a sense of mastery of the universe, not from a faking of that mastery, and that's just the nature of human consciousness (for metaphysical reasons explained by others on this board). And it is human experience that tells us this (the example above is just one of many in real life, you can easily introspect back to many other such personal experiences). If one can fail to feel self esteem for what he does to "succeed" in an exam, how much more will he fail to feel any self esteem for what he does for his "success" IN LIFE?

You might argue that he will feel a sense of mastery (and self esteem) by his skill of looting others, but this would mean you believe a kid who copies from others for his exams actually feels happy and that his "happiness" (and sense of achievement) can't be differentiated from the true genius in his class because we have no machine that can tell us this. Which would mean, as i said, i personally wouldn't know where to start with you!

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That being the case, then your arguments that men can violate the rights of others is irrelevant to the question of whether a man who acts contrary to reason is still acting according to his nature.

You have argued that \"predating on other men\" is \"not living as a man.\" But such a proposition, if it is to be taken seriously, requires proof that the category of people who live as \"men\" excludes predators. I have not seen such proof, nor proof of the contention that predators necessarily act \"contrary to reason.\"

Can you explain why you do not understand argument that I set forth? Your objections have not been on point; the argument is extremely straighforward, although not if you don\'t pay attention to what the actual steps are, backsliding can occur. You seem to be engaging in petitio pricipii -- you want to conclude that predation is moral for man, and therefore all of your objections amount to saying \"predation is moral for men\". I have not seen the direct proof that this is so (and I\'m not actually interested in such an argument), and you have yet to point to an actual flaw in the Objectivist argument. Wazzup with that?

Actually, it is not my position that \"predation is moral for man.\" If I have offered such statements as \"the individual who makes others do his producing for him is the superior man,\" it is only to show they are no more arbitrary than such assertions as a predator is \"less than a man.\"

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Because benefit is what it\\\'s all about. So, in a sense virtue is \\\"what works\\\"; i.e. what works across the span of a life, not what works in the range of the moment, only to cause a problem later on.

This is interesting because I was told by KendallJ that “Virtue is not a cost-benefit analysis, nor does Objectivism recognize a cost-benefit analysis as the determining factor in ethics.” But to respond to your point above, I’d have to ask for a completion of your thought that virtue is \"what works.\" What works for what exactly? If a person would rather be rich by looting than virtuous by following Objectivist principles, what is the argument against him?

My advice on this would be to first think of virtue in a non-social sense. It\'s quite a hypothetical leap, but you don\'t have to think of Robinson Crusoe. Instead, for starters, ignore social contexts and focus on things like: should one learn how to be rational, should one get addicted to drugs, etc. Better to sort out those, and see how selfishness works, and how man has choices, but not any choice he wishes.

Let’s take the nasty little habit of smoking. I once told a friend that each cigarette takes a day off his life. His reply? “That’s a relief. I thought it was a year.” I value longevity over the kick one gets from a cigarette. My friend does not. How would I “prove” my values are correct and his are not?

Then, only once you agree that the Objectivist ethics works in those types of contexts, move on to the social context. Ask oneself: can man benefit from the society of other men? how can man go about benefiting most from such society? etc.

I do not know of any way to prove that Chairman Mao did not benefit from a Communist China.

Edited by Gary Brenner

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The quote you gave me from Rand is a little ambiguous, but I am certain that she is much more clear in other writing and she does address this numerous times. The phrase \\\"man qua man\\\" is also a key word. That is, evaluating man as a member of the class of animals man. Another signal is the standard/purpose distinction. Look for these and you will see Rand clarifying what she means.

I have previously dealt with the \"man qua man\" argument. Where is the demonstration that the producer is necessarily more \"qua man\" than the looter?

Given that virtue will be defined that way, does that mean that virtues somehow aren\\\'t related to me and the events in my real world? No. What it means is that virtues are generalities that apply to all men, but for which there is basis in reality. Rands statement about destruction of the looter, means that any particular looter is put on a path to eventual destruction, when he chooses to practice the vice. This can be shown in reality; however, the fact that that path may take days, weeks or years to travel or that it is longer for some looters than others does not in any way change the fact that the choice to practice the vice puts him on that path.

So tell me exactly when did the “path to eventual destruction” catch up with Mao Zedong? He died of Lou Gehrig\'s Disease at the age of 83, after ruling over a mass-murdering slave state for nearly three decades. Is anyone willing to suggest that his fatal illness served as the wages for his sins?

The corollary to that is that the choice to practice the virtue puts him on a different path, one to the ultimate purpose of his life, his own deeply lasting happiness (or as Tara Smith puts it in the book Viable Values, which details Objectivist meta-ethics, flourishing). One may be able to acheive short range pieces of value by a near term cost benefit analysis; however, only at the sacrifice of the long range goal. This is the equivalent of setting out to climb a mountain and never getting there because you keep walking up and down the path to eat blueberries. The choice to compromise virtue must result in something less than ultimate happiness.

A device for objectively measuring a person’s happiness has not yet been invented. So any claims about the looter being less happy than the producer are pure, unadulterated conjecture.

The choice to consistently practice vice, will put you on a path that will lead to your destruction. So in effect, the choice to be virtuous is the choice to flourish, to reach a long term state via a path that is consciously chosen, no matter what distracting choices would take you away from that goal.

Slavery existed in North America for 250 years. It was only the final generation of slaveholders that generally faced negative consequences for their ownership of other humans. How, for example, was Patrick Henry destroyed by the vice of slave holding?

Edited by Gary Brenner

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Next question: do you agree that playing russian roulette is the destruction of the player? Or that randomly pulling wires from a bomb is the destruction of the defuser?

Sure.

Well, okay. But does this point matter? I could/would argue that starving millions did impair what Mao would otherwise have obtained in life, but more importantly, an isolated example doesn\\\'t make your case.

Logically, all I have to do is present one example to disprove the statement that looting leads to the destruction of the looter. As for Mao’s imposed impairment, what if the Chairman simply enjoyed mass murder more than designing buildings, running a steel factory or managing a railroad?

“The destruction of the looter” doesn’t mean that every bank robber will be apprehended or every dictator hung out to dry. Pointing out evil men who weren’t killed is as relevant to your debate as pointing out productive men who were killed.

If you will refer to my early posts you will see that from the beginning I acknowledged that the looter faces great risks. However, I also pointed that there are many productive men who also take risks: soldiers, bounty hunters, racecar drivers, marijuana dealers, etc. If the argument against looting boils down to the fact that the looter may have his life prematurely shortened, then that argument would also apply to many producers as well. Does anyone wish to argue that racecar driving is inconsistent with Objectivist ethics?

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So tell me exactly when did the “path to eventual destruction” catch up with Mao Zedong?

Oh I'm sure he lived a happy and fulfilling life, with no fear about his personal safety due to other thugs trying to upstage him, no paranoia about the true motivations of the people surrounding him, no feeling of inadequacy whenever reality made it abundantly clear that he was driving his great nation into the gutter, no concern about the future knowing that America was ever more prosperous and strong while his own country could not feed itself.

Yeah, there is no way to know if Mao would have been better off leading China into the future by implementing the protection of individual rights, freeing the minds of over one billion people to create wealth. I wonder...

Actually, I don't wonder.

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If a person would rather be rich by looting than virtuous by following Objectivist principles, what is the argument against him?
In essence, that it is an impractical ethical philosophy for us to be looting each other. Much more practical to figure out rules that we now call "rights" and trade with each other under those rules. Edited by softwareNerd

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Logically, all I have to do is present one example to disprove the statement that looting leads to the destruction of the looter. As for Mao’s imposed impairment, what if the Chairman simply enjoyed mass murder more than designing buildings, running a steel factory or managing a railroad?

But I thought we were talking about a man who has chosen reason as his sole decision making tool. Are you suggesting that one could, in reason decide that mass murder is enjoyable, much less more enjoyable than running a steel factory?

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I do not know of any way to prove that Chairman Mao did not benefit from a Communist China.

Or any way to prove that he did, for that matter. You can't look at someone else and determine that they are happy by the wealth they have of the way they behave. You assume that they are happy. I believe they were not, because I believe self-esteem and self-efficacy are instrumental to real happiness and further that neither can be had without an honest assessment of reality.

A looter realizes, sunconsciously, if not consciously, that he cannot live without someone else to provide for him. That he is a parasite. Looting is an admission of ones own inneptitude at navigating reality. It is an admission of a lack of efficacy. An admission of having no self-worth. It is taking the effect and pretending that it is the cause to attempt to live with oneself. Happiness in anything but the most trivial sense cannot be had by a man that does not like himself.

I'm don't think you will find the proof you are looking for unless there is a way to measure an individuals inner-state. The only way to arrive at the cause of happiness or self-esteem is to analyze yourself. Under what circumstances do you like yourself? What causes you to be happy?

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Heres an example of "looting" which I cannot see doing any harm to the looter:

Looter is at eotk and his coworker, Jane, leaves some cheezits on the table, that she bought with her own money. Looter sees them and eats some. He didn't ask or respect her property rights, and probably thought nothing of it. He really wasn't all that hungry, just thought they looked tasty. Jane probably wouldn't notice any were missing, and even if she did, they would both forget about it in the long run. So how does this contribute destruction?

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Heres an example of "looting" which I cannot see doing any harm to the looter:

Looter is at eotk and his coworker, Jane, leaves some cheezits on the table, that she bought with her own money. Looter sees them and eats some. He didn't ask or respect her property rights, and probably thought nothing of it. He really wasn't all that hungry, just thought they looked tasty. Jane probably wouldn't notice any were missing, and even if she did, they would both forget about it in the long run. So how does this contribute destruction?

There is a minimilization of the damage but it still exists. If I were to steal 1 cent, it is still theft, even though the damage is small.

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Do you agree that playing russian roulette is the destruction of the player? Or that randomly pulling wires from a bomb is the destruction of the defuser?
Sure.
Really? Your Mao statements
Logically, all I have to do is present one example to disprove the statement that looting leads to the destruction of the looter.
suggest otherwise.

I'm not asking whether russian roulette and random bomb-defusing can be destructive, but whether they are destructive actions even if they don't result in physical injury. Surely you don't agree with that?

I acknowledged that the looter faces great risks. However, I also pointed that there are many productive men who also take risks: soldiers, bounty hunters, racecar drivers, marijuana dealers, etc. If the argument against looting boils down to the fact that the looter may have his life prematurely shortened, then that argument would also apply to...
That's not the argument against looting. The argument is (or rather the argument leads to the conclusion) that looting is destructive to the looter regardless of what results a particular case of looting leads to.

FYI I'm sure the Objectivists here (of which I am not included) would say that the looter doesn't face risks in the first place, as "risk" implies there is a potential reward.

As for Mao’s imposed impairment, what if the Chairman simply enjoyed mass murder more than designing buildings, running a steel factory or managing a railroad?
It seems a digression, but I would say that whether or not X is enjoyed has little (if anything) to do with whether X is objectively destructive/impairing.

Does anyone wish to argue that racecar driving is inconsistent with Objectivist ethics?
Someone did make a similar argument not too long ago. It's somewhat interesting. Check it out.

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... Jane, leaves some cheezits on the table, that she bought with her own money. Looter sees them ... He really wasn't all that hungry, just thought they looked tasty.
What's this guys principle? That we should eat other people's cheezits without asking, if they look good? :thumbsup: Is that a practical rule we want everyone to adopt, or could it have some negatives to it?

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I’m not talking about knowing the cause of a particular man’s self-esteem. I am talking about knowing the cause of self-esteem, as such. You do know that emotions have identity; that A is A when it comes to emotions... that they are not causeless and you can definitively create a list of things that can and cannot cause a given emotion, right?

Let’s see. My list of things causing the emotion of pleasure includes slender blonde women, Duke Ellington’s music, and dry martinis. On the other hand, my cousin Steve’s list includes muscular men with curly hair, Bartok, and Sauvignon Blanc. So definitively, a Bartok concerto cannot cause me pleasure, but it can in Steve’s case.

So I ask: is it possible to know what can and cannot give rise to a given emotion or are emotions unknowable and causeless?

I know exactly what causes my pleasure. But I don’t think I would have known Steve’s unless he had told me.

But that was not the question asked of you. What was asked was: given your choice to live, and your choice to use reason and never lapse in said use, can you present the logical chain of decisions and values that causes one to seek wealth, status, and power? Not just what set of ideas, contradictory or not, can cause a person to want these things, but: what NON-contradictory set of ideas can cause a person to want these things.

I can only speak for myself. Wealth is useful to me because I value privacy, and the poor don’t have much of that. I’ve never cared about status because I’m not gregarious by nature. And power only seems to cause misery.

Now that’s my take on it. I don’t claim to have the foggiest idea what other people think about these things, unless they decide to pour their hearts out to me. Hypothetically, I might suggest that a person may like wealth because wealth brings comfort and comfort is easier on the back than discomfort. He might like status because he associates smiling, cheering faces with the approval of his parents. And power might be a kick because it would give him the means to correct the wrongs he felt had been done to him in the past.

You can’t take it as a given that one should seek these things.

And I don’t.

You must prove it while remaining logically consistent with your earlier choice to live and always use reason.

I have not yet seen any demonstration that looting is inconsistent with the choice to live and use reason as one’s means of survival.

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Let’s see. My list of things causing the emotion of pleasure includes slender blonde women, Duke Ellington’s music, and dry martinis. On the other hand, my cousin Steve’s list includes muscular men with curly hair, Bartok, and Sauvignon Blanc. So definitively, a Bartok concerto cannot cause me pleasure, but it can in Steve’s case.

I know exactly what causes my pleasure. But I don’t think I would have known Steve’s unless he had told me.

I can only speak for myself...

This hints at a "no," but silly me - I need an explicit statement. :thumbsup:

I'm not talking about whether you have enough information in a particular case, such as with Steve, to know the cause of emotions - I am asking you if you believe that the causes of emotions are both objective and knowable. That no matter how weird and screwed up a person's emotional mechanism is, that they are an objective product of his reasoning (or lack thereof); that they do not occur causelessly.

Do you believe that the causes of emotions objective, knowable, and a product of a person's reasoning (or irrationality)?

Edited by Inspector

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I have not yet seen any demonstration that looting is inconsistent with the choice to live and use reason as one’s means of survival.

I'm afraid that won't do. You see, you committed to two things - that you accepted the goal of living, and that you accepted the means of never breaching reason. The questions posed by Groovenstein showed you that actions like deciding to loot are not primaries - that they rely on a long chain of antecedent reasoning. If you don't have a long chain of reasoning linking your end decision - looting - to your initial premises - life and rationality - then you have nothing but a wild guess as to whether you are really meeting your goals at all.

If you're going to engage in ethical philosophy, (with a reason-based approach, that is) then you have to be ready to do these kinds of things.

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Think of two kids who take two different approaches to school. One decides to master all the ruies and principles of math and science and he constantly gets A’s in his tests. Another decides to learn how to cheat by copying other kids\\\' answers and also usually gets A’s. Do you believe that we have no way of telling which of the two will have real self esteem? Do you believe that both will feel the same kind of confident attitude to (school) life (an attitude that is a necessary ingredient of happiness, no?)? in short, do you think that we can’t tell which of the two kids would be truly happy because we haven’t invented a machine that measures happiness or self esteem? If that is your position, then...I personally wouldn’t know where to start with you.

Certainly, if you stipulate that only productive people have “real” self-esteem, you automatically exclude the non-productive from the category of those who experience this assumed “real” self-esteem. But what certifies the truth of the premise that only the productive class have real self-esteem? What would rule out the possibility that a jewel thief could practice his craft with skill, confidence, happiness and a degree of pride as intense as that of the rich women he robs?

The fact is, a looter is not happy precisely because happiness comes from a sense of mastery of the universe, not from a faking of that mastery, and that’s just the nature of human consciousness (for metaphysical reasons explained by others on this board). And it is human experience that tells us this (the example above is just one of many in real life, you can easily introspect back to many other such personal experiences). If one can fail to feel self esteem for what he does to “succeed” in an exam, how much more will he fail to feel any self esteem for what he does for his “success” IN LIFE?

Are African laborers not part of the universe? And were the slave traders who kidnapped those Africans from their homeland and put them in chains not their masters? So in what way would these looters of human flesh be denied a “sense of mastery of the universe”?

You might argue that he will feel a sense of mastery (and self esteem) by his skill of looting others, but this would mean you believe a kid who copies from others for his exams actually feels happy and that his “happiness” (and sense of achievement) can’t be differentiated from the true genius in his class because we have no machine that can tell us this. Which would mean, as i said, i personally wouldn’t know where to start with you!

No, I would not claim that a kid who copied answers from the smart guy in front of him would likely feel a sense of pride in his knowledge of math or science. He may, however, feel a sense of pride in his ability to get away with cheating. Is he faking self-esteem? If he thinks his good grades are the result of his knowledge of math, yes, of course. But if he recognizes that he got the good grades by exercising some other talent, then his self-esteem may be entirely genuine.

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Oh I’m sure he lived a happy and fulfilling life, with no fear about his personal safety due to other thugs trying to upstage him, no paranoia about the true motivations of the people surrounding him, no feeling of inadequacy whenever reality made it abundantly clear that he was driving his great nation into the gutter, no concern about the future knowing that America was ever more prosperous and strong while his own country could not feed itself.

Regarding fear about personal safety, some individuals actually thrive on danger. At the airport I recently met a group of soldiers who were on their way back to Iraq. I asked them if they were afraid. The majority of them said no. And some of them talked about what a “rush” urban warfare is. In fact, there are many individuals who frankly enjoy the risks their occupations entail: firemen, boxers, mountain climbers, etc. If worries about physical danger figured large in Mao’s mind, it is highly unlikely he would have become a Communist revolutionary in the first place.

As for concern about driving his country into the gutter, on this point we can be certain. Mao showed no second thoughts or remorse about the misery that Communism brought to China. He did not revise his basic political principles in the least. The launching the Cultural Revolution in 1966 was a successful attempt to maintain traditional Marxist control of the country after his disastrous Great Leap Forward.

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